Consortium Prepares Rural Communities Across U.S. to Deal with Emergencies, Disasters

photo of remote rescue training

Small towns and rural areas across America are better prepared today to deal with a wide range of emergencies, natural disasters and other incidents, thanks to a federally-funded program based in Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice & Safety.

The Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which includes EKU and five college and university partners, is the only program in the U.S. focused on multi-disciplinary nationwide rural emergency preparedness training. Reaching into every state of the nation and all six U.S. territories, the program marked a milestone this summer with its 20,000th trainee.

Funded by the Department of Homeland Security (specifically FEMA’s National Training and Education Division) since 2004, the Consortium addresses the unique challenges and training needs faced by emergency responders in small, rural and remote communities.

“Rural communities will often be the first line of defense, and they need to be able to respond immediately and effectively,” said Ryan Baggett, co-principal investigator for the Consortium along with EKU colleague Dr. Pam Collins. “But they don’t have access to training as experienced by larger cities and are often the last to receive the necessary funding and support for training. We’re trying to reach out to those communities.”

EKU serves as executive agent for the Consortium. The other academic partners – East Tennessee State University, Iowa Central Community College, Northwest Arkansas Community College, The University of Findlay and North Carolina Central University – each bring specific expertise and niche capabilities in developing and delivering the DHS-certified curriculum. Instruction is delivered either online or on site by a large cadre of adjunct faculty based around the nation. The Center for Rural Development, in Somerset, Ky., provides outreach and marketing as well as advanced technology support by hosting all of the Consortium’s online training courses.

To ensure that training reflects the needs of rural emergency responders, the Consortium convenes a national rural emergency preparedness summit and completes a biennial national survey of rural stakeholders. Data gathered from these activities is used to determine the type of training needs, the extent to which it is needed, and the optimal delivery methods. In addition, an advisory board of 19 members from 18 major national organizations provides guidance and recommendations to the program. These groups include the International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Emergency Managers, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of Counties, National Rural Health Association, National Sheriffs Association, and the North American Fire Training Directors, among others.

Baggett said some of the more popular Consortium courses are Event Security Planning for Public Safety Professionals, Crisis Management for School-Based Incidents, and Dealing with the Media. Other courses include: Port and Vessel Security for Public Safety and Maritime Personnel, Rail Car Incident Response, Terrorism and WMD Awareness in the Workplace, Business Continuity Planning and Emergency Response, and Risk and Vulnerability Assessments for Rural Communities, among others. Eight- and 16-hour courses (all free of charge, funded by grant funds) are tailored to be convenient for working professionals and volunteers nationwide.

In Kentucky, the Event Security Planning course provided the framework for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, a major world event that drew more than 500,000 visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park and Lexington area.

“I can say without hesitation that the information learned … was instrumental in the success of the planning of the WEG,” said Lt. Bobby Day of the Kentucky State Police. “Whether you are tasked with planning an event of this magnitude or a small local event, whether you serve as the sole planner, part of a planning committee, or are only responsible for a component of an event, the information that you take from this course will pay dividends and enhance your potential for a successful outcome.”

As the numbers of trainees have grown each successive year since the Consortium was established in 2004, feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Baggett said. “We hear of cases where communities have used our training to better respond to emergencies or disasters.

“At the end of the day, it is most gratifying to know that what we have done has made a real difference out there.”

For more information about the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium, visit www.ruraltraining.org or call 1-877-855-RDPC (7372).

Published on August 09, 2011